Mental Health Counseling
The Mental Health Counseling option combines didactic and experiential course work to give students grounding in theories and principles of mental health counseling and extensive experience in supervised application of those theories and principles. The goals of the Mental Health Counseling program are the following: to enhance students' personal and professional development as counselors; to increase their ability to understand the characteristics and concerns of various client populations and their environments; to develop their knowledge and skills in use of theory-based counseling models; and to train them in the use of scientific methods of inquiry and evaluation. The program is designed to achieve the following objectives:
A major objective of the option is to provide students with training which meets the American Counseling Association's Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) counselor education accreditation criteria for mental health counseling. CACREP criteria require that students complete a 60-credit program which includes 700 hours of supervised practice at counseling and exposes them to knowledge and skills in the following areas which are described in more depth under the core program objectives.
- Human and family growth and development
- Social and cultural foundations
- Helping relationships
- Lifestyle and career development
- Research and evaluation
- Professional orientation
The option includes a counseling skills course, one practicum in our human development clinic seeing clients under the supervision of faculty (100 hours), and an internship (600 hours).
A second objective of the program is to promote mental health counselors' personal, interpersonal, and professional development. The mental health counseling program is committed to encouraging persons from diverse cultural backgrounds to become counselors. Because mental health counseling requires high levels of professional maturity and interpersonal skills, the curriculum offers a number of experiential learning courses which are designed to foster students' personal development, relationship skills, and professional orientation. The course content includes self-exploration and skill acquisition regarding personal values, cultural heritage, professional issues, personal and professional relationships, and group dynamics. These experiences include opportunities for development of cohesive relations between students through self-disclosure, empathic listening, feedback, and role play. Fellow students are one of the outstanding learning resources in the mental health counseling program. Students are also expected to be in their own personal counseling while going through the program.
A third objective of the program is to help students acquire knowledge in the foundations of mental health counseling, including its history, philosophy, unique professional identity, professional organizations, training standards, credentialing mechanisms, ethical codes, and research and professional issues. Students will be encouraged to join ACA and the American Mental Health Counseling Association.
A fourth objective of the option is to help students understand and prepare to fulfill mental health counseling roles in Montana's mental health care system. The program is designed to meet licensure requirements in Montana for professional counselors. The requirements include that the programs be at least 60 semester credits in length, and involve at least six credits of counseling practicum course work. Students can also acquire up to 1500 hours of supervised counseling experience prior to graduation which can be applied to the 3000 hours of supervised experience needed for licensure. Graduates of the program have equivalent status to persons from "core provider" professions (psychiatry, clinical psychology, clinical social work, and psychiatric nursing) when applying for clinical privilege with Montana 's mental health centers.
The fifth objective of the program is that students acquire the comprehensive knowledge and skills needed for provision of mental health counseling clinical services. Studies in this areas include: 1) understanding the general principles which explain mental health; 2) becoming competent in appraisal methods including mental status exams, mental health history taking, testing, DSM-V diagnosis, and environmental assessment; learning models and techniques for promoting mental health; and treating disorders including mental health education, prevention, consultation, crisis intervention, psychotropic medication, and disorder specific individual, family, and group counseling.
Competent counseling practice is informed and guided by theory. The program emphasizes thorough knowledge of clients' developmental, cultural, and social contexts. Theory-based approaches to appraisal and individual, family and group counseling are covered in-depth. During counseling practica (100 hours), students are closely supervised by licensed mental health professionals about clients and counseling theories. Students counsel persons suffering from serious mental illness. Supervised practice continues and is expanded during internship (600 hours). Upon completion of their internship, students will have met CACREP criteria for training experience in individual and group mental health counseling and consultation.
About the Curriculum
Required courses in the curriculum are intended to be taken sequentially to optimize
students' acquisition of knowledge, skills and personal development. Permission of
the instructor is also a prerequisite for all courses involving personal development,
acquisition of skills, and/or counseling practice. Because progress through the curriculum
is dependent on students taking courses in sequence, it is important that students
carefully plan their course of study with their advisor. Practicum courses are both
limited and restricted in enrollment. It is necessary to take courses in fall, spring
and summer semesters. Course work in the Mental Health Counseling program is consistently
rigorous. Student complete the program to allow more time for in-depth study and/or
involvement in nonacademic commitments.
Ed Dunbar, PhD
Asst Professor, Counseling
Anna Elliott, PhD
Asst Professor and Program Leader, Mental Health Counseling
Kara Hurt-Avila, PhD
Asst Professor, Counseling